Scott Clark Talks about "The Most Abused Text in the Bible"

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Do not judge, in order that you are not judged (Matt 7:1)

In his March 6 blog piece, Scott Clark examines Matthew 7:1 as it is the "go to" verse for many people, Christians and non-Christians alike. Clark suggests that often it is used to justify moral relativism, or as it could be paraphrased,  "You can't judge what I am doing, and I won't judge what you are doing, lets just all be happy together."

Although Clark does not distinguish between right judging according to right standards and a spirit of judgementalism in this blog piece, he certainly demonstrates from the context of the verse, as well as appealing to Calvin's comments on it, that there is no way that it can support moral relativism.

He starts his piece this way:

......If there is any verse in Scripture that virtually everyone knows, even those who have never read the Bible, who have never been to Sunday School, it is Matthew 7:1. I suppose that most who quote this verse could not tell you where it found. It is very popularly held that by these words Jesus intended to say, “No one is qualified to make moral judgments.” A closer reading of the verse, in its context, shows us that such an interpretation of Jesus’ words is highly unlikely. We can also come to a better understanding of what the verse means if we compare it with parallels in the Luke and Mark (the other synoptic gospels).

and concludes with these words:

In truth, the relativist abuse of Matthew 7:1 is utterly unconvincing. It is sloppy. It is a classic example of taking a verse out of its immediate and broader context, of ignoring the intent of the speaker (Jesus) and the authorial intent of the gospel writers in the service of an agenda that none of them shared.

Questions for reflection:

1. The threat of being labeled as judgmental is huge in our culture. Could it be that this also serves to paralyze the church?  Where have you seen it?

A helpful book on this subject is  Terry Cooper's  book called Making Judgment Without Being Judgmental: Nurturing a Clear Mind and a Generous Heart (IVP, 2006). Some of his chapter titles include:

  • Insecure Arrogance vs. Confident Humility
  • Responding with judgments vs. Reacting with Judgmentalism
  • Guilty Judgments vs. Shameful Judgmentalism
  •  Authoritative Judgments vs. Authoritarian Judgmentalism
  • "Grace-Full" Living with a Clear Mind and a Generous Heart

2. At times it is said, "We [i.e. the church] should not be the judge about XYZ matter. That is up to God to judge that." Could this be either a humble way to admit that at the final reckoning God the righteous Judge of the whole earth will pass the final verdict, or could it be a way to avoid having to confront sin in the church today?

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This verse is often used out of context.  Yet it does convey the truth, that we are judged by the same standards we judge others.  So when you judge the actions of others, be careful and ready to repent yourself as well.  

If this verse is taken out of context, then Jesus, the apostle Paul, Peter have all broken this command/advice.  Think especially of Peter's role in judging Annanias and Sapphira, or Paul's action in judging Peter for separating himself from gentiles, or Paul's command for the church to cast out or separate itself from the man who was committing adultery.  In context, judgements should be careful, loving, truthful, and humble, and more about the actions than about someone's heart.  

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